The Atacama Desert Experience

By ~ Eric-Sheets 

The Atacama is not for everybody. But for adventurous travelers it is a must-do, bucket list destination. How can that be? Read on to learn more about Chile’s Atacama Desert which stretches from a high plateau of the Andes all the way down to the Pacific Ocean!


Most visits to The Atacama Desert begin at Calama by flying into the airport here, most likely, from Santiago. Set just above 7,400 feet, this city of 150,000+ residents is known as the gateway to the Atacama region. It is one of the driest cities in the world. Calama sprang to life as an oasis along the Loa River during the time of the Incas. Since then, it has thrived as the largest open-pit copper mine in the world.

San Pedro de Atacama

This small, desert town of 5,000 people is a good place to base your explorations of the region. It is unique, in that the local people are carrying on just like they have for thousands of years, and you get a chance to witness it first-hand. Believe it or not, you will find one of the top 10 spas of Latin America near here, at Alto Atacama Hotel! The accommodations we work with in the Atacama region provide unexpected, unique luxury and offer tours, excursions and daily treks to the featured attractions found in the region.

Hard or Soft Adventure?

The best part about the Atacama Desert experience is the fact that it’s a great destination for all adventure travelers; not just for the hardcore climbers and adrenaline junkies. For those of you who thrive on the extreme, you’ll find activities like sand boarding, mountain biking and out-of-this-world hiking!  For the rest of us, who just like to get “out there” visiting the far-flung reaches of our planet, you will find tamer, yet no less adventurous experiences, such as hot air balloon rides, spotting flamingos, gazing at high altitude geysers or just enjoying the stars in some of the darkest skies found in the world.

Stay and Play

How much time you spend here is up to you. There are enough attractions and activities to make a complete vacation of 5-10 days. At a rough glance, we count a dozen things we would like to see and do that all take the better part of a day to experience, allowing for leisurely lunches, meandering through the villages and haggling for indigenous arts and crafts. On our Chile travel page we have created a 10-day pre-designed private tour and a sample 10-day custom-designed private tour to help you learn about the possibilities. When you choose a custom-designed private tour of the Atacama Desert, we start with a blank piece of paper. It gets filled in with only the kinds of experiences you want and none that you don’t!

Combine Atacama with Other Destinations

To get to the Atacama Desert is a long journey for anyone; so it makes sense to combine a visit there with another destination(s) as well. By far, the most popular combination we design for many travelers is Atacama and the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia. Allow at least ten days for this sort of itinerary. In Patagonia, you can experience a boat excursion, endless hiking opportunities, horseback riding and much more. You might also consider a side trip of a few days to Valparaiso on the Pacific coast. Or, hop on a plane to Buenos Aires in Argentina to include some Southern Hemisphere cosmopolitan time. We also combine journeys to either the beach or wine country of Uruguay with Atacama visits. If time permits, you could even do it all!